The Virginia Department of Health under Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) is encouraging Virginians to file an anonymous report to snitch on various establishments for violating the governor’s restrictions to fight the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic that came from China. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) pondered whether Northam is trying to turn Virginia into a “society of … snitches.”
“[The governor of Virginia] is now trying to turn us into a society of informers and snitches?” Obenshain asked. “The Governor and his Health Secretary, through the VA Dept. of Health is now asking for people to make anonymous complaints to the Dept. for violations of the Gov. Northam’s mask order.”
“And in the submission form, there’s a drop down menu that lists gun ranges, churches retail businesses and a few other types of organizations as culprits,” the Republican added.
“So let me get this straight. Gov. Northam is asking private citizens to tattle on their fellow citizens regarding his mask order and encouraging complaints to be submitted specifically as to churches and gun ranges. And these complaints can be made anonymously. There is nothing to prevent businesses from snitching on competitors, or to prevent the outright fabrication of reports,” Obenshain warned.
“This is sure to work to the detriment of small businesses who are struggling under the weight of the coronavirus shutdown AND stifling laws Democrats passed that go into effect July 1,” he added.
Yet the situation gets even worse. Obenshain noted that Northam’s Department of Health is encouraging this snitching “while the Governor equivocates and prevaricates when it comes to its enforcement in connection with protests, demonstrations and riots – as long as participants are his allies.”
The “society of snitches” form, entitled “Online Complaint Report for Violations of Executive Order 63 (Face Coverings) and Executive Order 65 (Phase Two Easing of Certain Temporary Restrictions)” and first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, indeed includes a drop-down menu listing eight different types of establishments, including “Indoor Gun Range” and “Religious Service” as options.
Under Northam’s Phase Two rules, “religious services must be limited to no more than 50 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy of the room or facility in which the religious services are conducted. Individuals attending religious services must be at least six feet apart when seated and must practice proper physical distancing at all times (with the exception of family members).”
Northam has harshly applied coronavirus restrictions against churches. He previously banned all in-person worship services with more than ten people. On April 5, 2020 — Palm Sunday — Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague Island, Va., held a sixteen-person worship service in its 225-seat sanctuary while maintaining social-distancing and personal hygiene protocols. Police monitored the service and issued a pastor a criminal citation and summons. The pastor faced penalties up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. In May, the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump intervened to help the church.
Also in May, a group of nearly 200 pastors sent Northam a letter, urging him to loosen restrictions on churches and explaining that “the ban on corporate worship prevents Christians who believe that Holy Scripture commands them to assemble for worship (Hebrews 10:24-25) from acting as their consciences – and God Himself – dictates.”
Northam did loosen the restrictions, but he continued to show a double standard when it comes to public gatherings. While the governor condemned Virginians who protested the coronavirus lockdowns as “selfish,” he praised and publicly supported those who violated coronavirus lockdowns in order to protest the horrific police killing of George Floyd.
“To the protestors who are out in Richmond and other parts of the commonwealth: I hear you, I am with you, I pledge to stand by you,” Northam said, shortly before loosening coronavirus restrictions by entering Phase II of opening. ” I can not know the depth of your pain right now, but I can stand with you and support you and together we’re going to turn this pain into action. ”
Northam showed a similar double standard on face masks. While he insisted that “wearing a mask could literally save someone’s life,” he took part in selfies without a mask on two days before signing an executive order requiring residents to cover their faces or face punishment.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, the law firm representing Lighthouse Fellowship Church, compared the “society of snitches” anonymous reporting tool to the Nazi’s infamous Gestapo.
“Governor Ralph Northam has created a gestapo where residents are encouraged to report neighbors for exercising their First Amendment right to attend a worship service without fear of punishment. The governor is trying to drop his heavy hand on churches with unconstitutional restrictions but supporting protests, demonstrations and riots. Encouraging people to snitch on churchgoers is reprehensible,” Staver said.
Northam’s biased application of the coronavirus lockdowns fits with his radical left agenda and his opportunism when it comes to the coronavirus crisis. Under the cover of Easter weekend during a pandemic, Northam signed a raft of lefty bills, including loosening restrictions on abortion, championing LGBT identities, and tightening restrictions on gun ownership.
While the Virginia Department of Health likely did not intend for this “society of snitches” form to target gun ranges and churches specifically, Northam appears hypersensitive to the misdeeds of political opponents while extremely lax when it comes to protesters who violate his regulations to forward causes he supports. How can Virginians trust that the Department of Health won’t respond to anonymous complaints about churches and gun ranges while looking the other way on any of Northam’s favored causes?
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.